Why I chose Looker

Daniel Mintz, Chief Data Evangelist

Apr 25, 2016

Also check out a new Q&A that Daniel did with Dataconomy talking about what it means to be a data evangelist and why it's so important.

Last month, I started as Looker’s Chief Data Evangelist. But I chose Looker three years ago, when I was just starting as Upworthy’s Director of Business Intelligence and was working out what our data infrastructure should look like.

We knew we wanted to join data from our publishing platform with data about the visitors to our site, and might want to integrate 3rd-party data as well. So we looked at the standard solutions for publishers, as well as some other vertically-integrated analytics providers—ready-made solutions that capture, store, and present your data to you.

But the idea of having our analyses constrained by someone else’s ideas about what was relevant didn’t sit well with me. If you’re using the same inflexible tools as everyone else, how are you going to innovate?

So we decided to build our own data warehouse. We weren’t naive about how challenging (and expensive) that could be, but Amazon Web Services had just released Redshift, and that meant we could outsource a lot of the headaches to the cloud. So we knew where we to put our data, but not how we were going to make it useful.

Centralizing all our data in a data warehouse made it accessible, but accessibility isn’t the same as utility. If the only way to get answers from our data was analysts writing SQL queries by hand, there was no way my team wouldn’t become a bottleneck.

And that’s when I met Looker. Looker promised the holy grail: You bring us your data--in whatever shape works best for you--and we’ll make it so that anyone can explore the data, no SQL knowledge required. I’m pretty skeptical of vendors, so this sounded far-fetched. But on our first call with Looker, Lloyd, the founder, did a magic trick. He connected Looker to our data, and in five minutes, we were building queries by clicking and pointing.

I was gobsmacked.

So we signed up. And we found that Looker was just as invested in our success as we were. Their support team was always available, eager to help, and resourceful as all get-out. If Looker couldn’t do something (and, frankly, there was a lot it couldn’t do three years ago), the support team would forward the request on to Product. And rather than falling into a black hole, our requests would often show up in the next release.

Fast forward three years and Looker has become a critical part of Upworthy’s infrastructure. It’s how Upworthy builds custom dashboards, reports on all facets of the business, and alerts the team when something is wrong. And Looker changed Upworthy’s relationship to data.

Rather than siloing the data where only analysts could access it, Looker lets anyone in the company ask questions of the data so they can make better decisions. And that lets the analysts tackle the really hard problems.

In short, Looker is a force multiplier for the analytics team. It lets the team move faster, build smarter, and serve far more people than a team of its size should be able to.

Three years ago, I was sold on Looker’s vision—a vision that’s focused on turning data into information, and information into knowledge. And that turned out to be a good bet.

Because buying software isn’t about buying the current version, but about where the software is going. And Looker’s trajectory hasn’t disappointed. So when Lloyd and I were chatting earlier this year, and he suggested that I come evangelize for Looker, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’d been singing Looker’s praises for years, so I was thrilled at the prospect of directing all my energy toward spreading the word about why data is great, how to use data well, and why Looker is the key to unlocking data’s power.

Because the reasons I chose Looker three years ago are even more true today. I believe that data has the power to revolutionize the way the world does business, the way governments care for their citizens, and the way that we solve the world’s most pressing problems. But only if people have the skills and the tools to use data well. And Looker is the key to unlocking that opportunity.

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